Sterne Blog

Submitted by: Ed McManis, Head of School

Goodbye to 2017. Add your own exclamation points. Seems it was one of the stranger, more surprising years in a while. As we look to 2018, it’s a chance to recharge and rethink the future. And so, some predictions for 2018.

Predictions:

1.     I predict that education will experience a sudden revolution across the country. It will become the #1 priority from the White House to your house.

2.     The NFL will switch to flag football. They will sell all of their helmets and donate the $$$ to college funds.

3.     Algebra will suddenly become easier and will be as accessible as say… a reality TV show.

4.     The Flat-Earthers will be proven right. Non-believers will fall off the edge of the world. This will mean that parking will be easier, especially in our white zone.

5.     My ice cream diet plan will work in 2018. It will be so successful I will start a franchise and get on one of those Home Shopping Network shows. It will be called Ben & Jerry & Ed’s.

6.     There will be a second full eclipse that will knock out Wi-Fi for a month. Families will have to talk to each other. Some families will realize they have the wrong kids.

7.     The Warriors will win the Championship. Easy.

8.     Science will discover that Twitter is actually an alien infestation plot. It will be replaced by a new technology called, “Hmm, I’m going to listen to what you have to say, be empathetic, reasonable, and see if we can come to a common solution that is a “win-win.”

9.     A new federal program will forgive student loans, increase funding for educational research and the brain, and reward drivers for using their blinkers.

10.  Pigs will fly.

Happy 2018.

Submitted by Melissa Myers, Associate Head of School

Remember when you were a child and the holidays were perfect--the table was always filled with good things to eat, your whole family gathered around wishing each other a season filled with peace and goodwill; the house was warm, the desserts were sweet, the presents lovely and the room candlelit until you fell gently asleep with a smile still lingering on your face.

Yeah, I don’t remember that either.  

The fact is that, no matter what our past holidays have been like (and most of us can conjure up at least one instance when a family member screamed at another during the holidays) we still seem to hold very high expectations for this season.

We spend weeks shopping for presents and preparing for long, exhaustive trips on planes or in cars to see grandparents and cousins--some just this one time a year--and we want peace and harmony to rein.  What we often get, instead, are cranky kids and teenagers who would rather be at home, with their friends, on a couch, on social media, watching YouTube, hanging by their toenails, getting a cavity drilled, or pretty much anything else in the world other than being with relatives for what seems, to them (and often to all present) like the longest, most boring, or most stressful time of the whole damn year.

At the risk of sounding Scrooge-like, we talk a lot about The Most Wonderful Time of the Year around these parts.  It’s a dark humor conversation at our faculty meetings--personally, I do a lot of dirge caroling and sending emails to remind staff that Krampus is coming--but it’s important for all of us to keep in mind that the holidays are often a disruptive and stressful time for our students for a whole host of reasons.  Here are some of the issues that we are particularly attentive to:

Students who have experienced trauma: Unfortunately, family tragedies, illnesses, and deaths are particularly vivid and impactful during the holidays. Loved ones are noticeably missing from holiday gatherings.  It’s common for people to displace or project stress and sadness.  This is a good opportunity for your mother-in-law to acknowledge that your portion of mashed potatoes is definitely contributing to your recent weight gain.

We’re careful not to assume that all our students are super-excited to be reminded of the loss in their lives.

Change of routine: We can’t underestimate this enough.  Your child probably doesn’t always bound out of bed, bright and early, to get to school everyday; however, they do thrive on routine. Their teachers will always nag for their phones in the morning, 3rd period is always the same time everyday, friends are predictably goofy during lunchtime, sports and after-school activities are pre-scheduled.  Then we take 2.5 weeks off of school. And kids are supposed to love it!  That’s a lot of change and a lot of pressure.  

We can provide kids with work over the breaks if parents want it, and it’s good to remind our students that--if they need us--many of us are just as bored, stressed, or avoidant as anyone else.  We’ll check our email. We’ll say “Hi” to your kids or just listen if they want to vent.  You’d be surprised how many of your sons and daughters send us emails over the breaks.  It’s pretty great, actually.

Growing up: Our oldest high school students feel this the most, as they contemplate where they will be at this time next year.  Many are anxiously waiting for college acceptance letters or are still formulating a plan for after graduation. They may mourn the loss of their childhood, find themselves trying to cope with new divorce situations during the holidays, or they might worry that they won’t have a “home” to come back to next year when they are away from college.  

Remind them, often, that the average age that Millennials leave the home is 28. Then help them find a seasonal job.

And while you’re at it, take good care of yourself during the holidays. Try to build in time to relax or, at least, to lower your expectations.  It’s OK if you forget to give someone a gift; that’s what re-gifting is for. If your kids act up, try to empathize with them, or at least threaten to break into their Snapchat accounts if they don’t knock it off.  Here's a great resource for supporting young ones during the holidays. And always remember that eggnog has more alcohol in it than you think it does. 

Happy Holidays!

Submitted by: Ed McManis, Head of School

Every business has its own code and specialized jargon. In my restaurant days in high school and college, you learned the lingo: “Rail two skinny cows” =  2 hamburgers no cheese NOW. “86 bakers” = no baked potatoes. “Lady with a baby” = look out, a full tray of food is coming through.

The same holds for the world of education. The jargon today has moved from the good ol’ 4Rs to a panoply of terms, codes and sayings. Some are new, some re-packaged, some relevant, and some.., well, you know. Here’s a sample along with some of the “language” we use at Sterne.

Grit. A current favorite; synonymous with “resilience” depending on which book you’re reading. In my old Catholic school days, Sr. Mary Forever called it “forebearance” Monsignor Smith called it “perseverance”  and my Grandma called it “spunk.” “Grit” has more “gravel” in it—think toughness, hanging in there, stick-with-it-ness, getting back on the horse.

Differentiation: Tailoring lessons to the needs of each student. Rather than “cafeteria” lessons where everybody gets the same lesson (standard), think--picking a la carte from the learning menu specific to the student’s needs and interests.

Executive Function. A seemingly gregarious and ubiquitous term today used by everyone for everything whether accurate or not. Typically EF is defined by 9 functions. That’s a lot, especially if you don’t have good EF or are ADHD, or you’re just not patient. A more succinct explanation = working memory, mental flexibility, emotional control. I describe it as “Who’s driving your bus? Do they know where they’re going and how to get there?”

Some Sterne sayings:
“As fast as you can, as slow as you must.” The student dictates the pace, rather than trying to have the student adhere to the “standard”.  Sometimes students are ahead of the standard. 
“Break the Code.” For a student with dyslexia, that magical moment when the phonics system we’ve been teaching kicks in, and they start reading. Reading can double, sometimes triple literally overnight. 
"Can’t vs. Won’t." The art of determining why a student doesn’t complete a task. Asking a student with dysgraphia to write a five paragraph essay for HW only to have them not comply is  more a “can’t” rather than a “won’t.  We've heard countless stories of students who were identified as defiant, lazy, or oppositional because their "can'ts" were mistaken for "wont's".
"Don’t die on that hill." A good one for parents and teachers. Also known as “pick your battles.”

And finally, two of my favorite sayings that have helped me navigate the daily routines: Pee Wee’s “I know you are but what am I? Infinity.” And the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”

Submitted by: Melissa Myers, Associate Head of School

For the past month here at Sterne, both middle and high school students engaged in a cyber-safety workshop through an organization called Empowered by Health.  These workshops topics ranged from online bullying to sexting and everything in-between.

During one of the first weeks of this workshop, I popped into a 10th grade classroom. Okay, “popped in” is actually impossible when you’re in charge of discipline; any time I get near a classroom, at least three students look up suddenly from their desks, shift around in their chairs, and stare at me for just a beat too long.  They’re up to something. Or are thinking about being up to something.  Or they’re...perfectly great kids who are never in trouble!  It depends.  

Anyway, I actually sneaked into the back of this 10th grade classroom without anyone noticing (which is a true complement to Valerie the teacher from Empowered by Health).  Here were a few of my take-aways from their discussion:

  • 2 out of 15 students shared their passwords with their parents
  • Every student has a smart phone
  • The average age that these kids received their first smart phone is 4th grade
  • 3 out of 15 students shared that their parents put limitations on their phone usage at home (i.e. bedtime rules, wifi restrictions, no tech at the table, etc.)
  • Nearly all students shared that they had been a victim of cyberbullying or had bullied another
  • 5 out of 15 admitted, by their own volition and not at the behest of the teacher, that they use their phones to view and exchange pornography
  • 100% of students eventually noticed that I was in the room, and made comments such as, “Oh my God!  I can’t believe you heard all that!” and “Are you going to tell our parents?”

The answer to that last question is obvious: YES!

Perhaps none of these statistics surprise you, but they surprised me enough to spend several mornings bending Valerie’s ear, asking questions about how schools and parents could partner to keep kids safe online, emotionally healthy, and connected to the real world.

Here are some useful tips that Valerie shared with me about how parents can prevent cyber bullying.

Here are some warning signs that may indicate that your son or daughter is being cyber bullied.

And here is some excellent advice from Common Sense Media about how you can set parameters at home for technology use, including how to implement device-free dinnertime, develop a family media plan, and intervene if your child is a constant text messenger or is addicted to social media.

Now that I’ve made parenting sound simple, I’ll share with you a struggle that we are faced with everyday here.

In the high school program, teachers collect phones at the start of 1st period.  We have conversations regularly with students about why we do this--to keep them on-task during class and away from the constant ding-ding of Snapchat, the black hole of Youtube, and the barrage of text messages that kids at other schools send to each other all day long.  (I know this occurs because, when Sterne students get caught with their phones, they often end up on my desk where they light up and ca-ching all day long like an Atlantic City casino.)  The kids HATE turning in their phones, and we’ve seen every trick in the book to avoid doing so, from submitting decoy iPhones (Come on guys! This phone hasn’t been powered on since 2010!) to the blatant untruths about owning or having a phone with them. In the end, we can’t wrestle phones away from kids, and it’s true that some never, ever turn their phones into us. If I see a kid who needs more support because they’re buried deep in their phones during social time or are scrolling through Snapchat when they should be studying for a class they are in danger of failing, I will take it, collect it from them everyday for a while, and work out a plan with that student to earn it back.  But otherwise, with some kids, we can die on the phone hill; so we continue encouraging them, everyday, to unplug for a while, breathe, and learn. In the meantime, we’ll hold our expectations firm--follow our rules and turn your phone in. We will thank those students who turn over their phones and we will keep hoping that, one day, all Sterne students will feel comfortable and confident enough to part with their devices for a few hours.

Parenting, whether at home with our own kids or here at school, in loco parentis, is not easy. But we all want the same thing for your sons and daughters: a safe haven at home and at school where they can focus on learning and living without fear of harassment, bullying, or shame. Please let us know what we can do to continue to ensure that this is their experience.

 

Submitted by: Jeff Burnaugh, Director of Learning

I remember the first year or two after the release of the smartphone, my friends and I were observing “youngsters” with these devices. We were all struck by how oblivious these early adopters appeared -- faces glued to their phones, unaware of their surroundings including their own friends! We referred to them as “phone zombies”.  

A couple of years later the tipping point created a new social norm in which this “zombie” like phone trance became accepted, and classic phone calls became more and more intrusive. Texting and social media are now embedded into the fabric of our days.

I was a late adopter but eventually I, too, bought a smartphone.  Over time, I realized my own transformation into zombie like tendencies; I would check the news on my phone, text friends, and scroll through the endless status updates on Facebook at even the slightest downtime (TV commercials, waiting in line, riding public transportation, etc.) On the bus, I noticed that people of all ages (not just the “youngsters”) were glued to their phones and I was one of them! We had all become zombies.

I didn’t like this social transformation, so I decided to create a new plan for myself that would help me stay present, aware, and engaged. Part of my plan included rules for my phone.

  • Texts are only for logistics.

  • I do not have my phone out while riding public transportation.

  • I left the world of social media with the exception of a few outlets that allow me to be creative and connect in meaningful ways.

I do use my phone as a tool, however! I create and edit movies. I take photos. I search and locate good food/restaurants. I have even learned how to play the guitar on my phone.

Technology can be a wonderful tool if the right frame of reference and perspective is cultivated. As teachers, we want to help our students develop self-regulation, perspective, and mindfulness around technology. Our goal is for students to be exposed to a myriad of choices for tools. This could be glue, colored pencils, cardboard, construction paper, popsicle sticks, cameras, musical instruments, and, of course, cool technology.

I love seeing examples of technology being used effectively and with purpose. The video below is just one example.
Intro: This particular student loves fashion and decided to use a fashion analogy for the construct of a cell in her biology project. She thought creatively and pragmatically about how to create a science project through fashion. After hours of cutting, gluing, and building her cell, she presented her cell fashion analogy and created a screencast for her digital portfolio (now showcasing 4 years of her work).  

Submitted by: Mike Jensen, IT Director

“With great power comes great responsibility”

Sterne School has a 1:1 iPad program to support students’ access to curriculum, digital literacy skills, and creative expression. Research shows that iPads also help students with executive functioning- including planning, time management, and remembering assignments and homework. The iPad is just one of the many tools we use to help students achieve their educational goals at Sterne. For more information on our technology program and tools, go to our website.

Two primary concerns related to our use of technology, and specifically iPads, are content and screen time. To help address content, Sterne School runs a Mobile Device Management (MDM) software system on all our Sterne owned iPads. This built-in software allows Sterne to regulate and restrict access to social media, games, and the app store. We also control the content that can be accessed by all iPads on campus through the use of internet firewalls, and an OpenDNS to make sure material is appropriate for school.

To help promote connections and engagements beyond the screen and instill a balanced sense of technology and non-technology time in the school environment, the Middle School requires students to take recess, snack, and lunch breaks without iPads.  Furthermore, although used as a tool in the classroom, teachers will often ask students to check their iPads into the “iPad hotel” (phones, too) or do a “faceplant” which means their iPads are to be flipped over screen-side down so as not to interfere with the activity or particular lesson for that period.  These screen time protocols and techniques help instill responsible and respectful use of technology.

We recognize that creating a culture of respect and balance around technology at home can be daunting -- both in the what (regulations, conditions) and in the how (tools, settings). Before iPads it was phones, game systems, computers, television, music...it’s always something, right?

There is good news, however! For students who are using a Sterne owned iPad, our MDM (and associated restrictions) works at home as well as school.  There are also a number of tech tools parents can access to help their student(s) learn how to be responsible digital natives (content and screen time).  Below are some tools, tips, and recommendations:

If you have any questions, please contact Michael Jensen, IT Director at Sterne School.  mjensen@sterneschool.org

 

 

Submitted by: Ed McManis, Head of School
Photo Credit: ESPN

If you’re a sports fan, you may remember the 2008 Olympic 400 relay races. The Americans were favorites, both the men and the women, yet they were eliminated. Both teams dropped the baton. All the speed in the world couldn’t make up for the “transition.”

With that thought in mind, here are some tips for those key transitions, whether middle school to high school, high school to college, any school to another school.

Many schools claim the ability to serve students with learning differences. The school  may have hosted a workshop, an in-service, or even employed a part time counselor to work with certain students. Does this mean they can meet the needs of students with LDs?

Here are a few key things to look for.

Program:

* Is their “LD” program based on best practices?

* Is a “differentiated” pedagogy integrated into the regular curriculum?

* Are there specifically designated trained LD teachers?

* To what degree will the teachers/classes accommodate the student?

* To what extent will they work with other professionals?

* What is their track record with LD students?

Specific LD knowledge:

* Do they know what Orton Gillingham is?

* Do they know what you mean when you say “phonological processing” or orthographic processing” or “executive functioning” outside of the overly general “being organized”?

* Do they know what an IEP is, a 504, or Lease Restrictive Environment?

* Do they know their Greek? (dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia?)

Team:

* Do they have Counseling Support services trained specifically in LD?

* Do they understand twice exceptional; dual diagnoses?

* Is it a social environment that is understanding and accepting of learning differences

* Will they allow participation in sports and clubs? Or will your child be excluded because of grades? Do you have a support person to advocate for you?

* Do you feel at home?

In the giant relay race of school, sometimes it’s a marathon. Make sure you have the right team to help you pass the baton and make a smooth transition. 

Submitted by: Jeff Burnaugh, Director of Learning

We come from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and skills that inform our worldview. What one person experiences in a situation can be completely different from another. We are affected by personal history, culture, and personality. This is why creating a team around students at Sterne is so important.

Our goal at Sterne is to create a team - student, parent, and teacher: This allows us to build a shared vision based on a collective assessment of the student. Students come into our classes with their unique lens; and they also bring their unique learning style.  Teachers see different sides of students because of the diversity of class content, social dynamics, teaching styles, and relationships. Parents see different sides based on the dynamics at home and the family's history. Together, we build a team to support each student to reach their potential.

In an effort to facilitate a good framework for an effective working relationship, here are three important guidelines:

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood (Covey,1989)

Empathy, the ability to listen and respect different perspectives/opinions is important in creating a common ground to work from. Teachers must be sure to model empathy for their students. Additionally, teachers need to understand dynamics at home to better bridge the two spaces, home and school, in which students spend the majority of their time. Parents can help by understanding what the teacher is observing in the classroom, and supporting the teacher in their efforts to create a positive and safe learning environment.

Be Solution and Process Oriented

After we assess common understanding as a baseline, we need to work together toward solutions. If something doesn’t work then we need to reassess and try again. Learning and growing are processes not singular events. Focusing on solutions can be a very powerful approach. If a student is struggling at home with an assignment, it is important that we devise a plan. Is the work too frustrating? Is the student not challenged enough? There are numerous solutions around these two questions alone. If the initial plan proves ineffective, then we try another.

Create a Common Goal

It is important that the student, teacher, and parent are all working toward a common goal. This goal can be social, developmental, or academic. If united, we can focus our energy and make sure our processes are aligned. As the student progresses, we re can re-evaluate and create another benchmark. It is important to meet the student where they are as opposed to where we would like them to be.

An effective team is built around these principles to help better serve the student. Together, from a place of understanding, and collective experiences and perspectives, we can work toward a common vision of what we define as success for the student.

 

Submitted by: Melissa Myers, Associate Head of School

Anxiety 101

The two most commonly-asked questions we get from prospective Sterne families are: 1) How does Sterne School approach and support homework?, and 2) What do you do to help with anxiety? (See the correlation there?) Since Ed already addressed homework in last weeks’ post, we’ll take a look at why children and teens often grapple with anxiety, what this looks like at school, and what Sterne does about it.

Why are children more stressed?

Over the past 50 years, experts have identified a marked increase in the number of children being treated for anxiety. This is often attributed to the cultural expectation that students receive stellar grades in high school, attend competitive colleges, and earn six-figure salaries in the workplace. (And forgetaboutit in the Bay Area, where rent is sky-high and the average price of housing is now at $1 million.)  Early and constant exposure to social media and all its trappings--body-shaming, cyber bullying, and rampant narcissism--provide a constant barrage of negative messaging that can do great damage to the fragile teenage psyche. No adult envies the position that today’s children are in.

How does this manifest in school?

Remember when your child was little and they would run to you, crying, and say, “I’m sad”? If only your teenager were as forthcoming!; Alas, they are not, so we sometimes need to get out our stress detectors and look for these common signs:

●      Frequent stomach aches or headaches

●      Avoidance of difficult tasks; avoidance of parents/teachers

●      Sleeplessness; coming to school tired, falling asleep in class

●      Irritability or anger

●      Drug or alcohol use and abuse

●      Resisting or refusal to attend school

Our hope is that they are a distant memory for your family; however, if anxiety doesn’t abate quickly, we’re on the lookout.

How does Sterne support students with anxiety?

We start by making faculty aware of the symptoms.  And then we talk about every student at faculty meetings, in the hallways, in the break room, on the weekends. We are always thinking of your sons and daughters, and wondering why they put their hood up the other day in class, or why they seemed edgy.  We might call them if they don’t come to school for a few days. And we’ll contact you, too, so we can partner to help these guys recognize their stress before it grabs hold of them.

We also support our kids through daily Mindfulness in every class (2 minutes at the start of class, 1 minute at the end); our counselors work with teachers and students to learn specific stress-reduction techniques. And we have learned to recognize anxiety trends throughout the school year: in October, the Honeymoon Period ends, and we start to see some old behaviors bubble up; stress always rises around the holidays and then levels out before the Ides of March; by May and early June, kids are anxious about the change of routine that the summertime brings. 

You can partner with us to help manage your child’s stress by providing routine and structure at home--get them signed up for clubs and sports after school, keep them active on the weekend with volunteer projects, organized outings and playdates, and plenty of physical activity.

Additional Resources:

Books for children:

Hey Warrior by Karen Young

Starving the Anxiety Gremlin by Kate Collins-Donnelly

What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dan Hubener

Books for teens:

Anxiety Sucks: A Teen Survival Guide by Natasha Daniels

Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens by Mary Karapetian Alvord PhD and Anne McGrath MA

Stuff That Sucks: A Teen's Guide to Accepting What You Can't Change and Committing to What You Can by Ben Sedley

Books for parents:

Helping Your Anxious Teen by Sheila Achar Josephs PhD

Why Smart Kids Worry: What Parents Can Do to Help by Allison Edwards

The Conscious Parent's Guide to Childhood Anxiety: A Mindful Approach for Helping Your Child Become Calm, Resilient, and Secure by Sherianna Boyle

Submitted by: Ed McManis, Head of School 

Welcome to a new year! New building, new neighborhood, new 49ers team..,lots of new things. And then, there are the sundry things that seem to stay the same: The Giants relief pitching, the monthly mortgage, and.., homework.

Each year this hot topic, and the arguments around it, arise: Is it necessary? There’s too much, too little; how can students keep up without it.., it’s just busy work; we’re preparing students; we’re burning students out. Typically each family responds with their own philosophy: “I suffered for 12 years, so will you, by gum.”

A quick tour through Google on the subject will give you info for both sides of the argument. From, “There’s no significant date that correlates homework to achievement” to the plain old argument, “Homework develops good habits.” 

And so, some guidance. At Sterne we apply the “Goldilocks Rule” to homework. You know, not too hard, not too soft, just right. Of course, the key to this rule is understanding that each student will have their own “homework” level. To help find that magic zone, homework should be at the student’s independent level, not just busy-work, and it should be creative.

Three helpful tips:

1)    Each student will have their own “homework” level. Talk with their teachers to help find it.

2)    It’s their homework, not yours. (You’ve already completed middle school and high school.) Again, communication with teachers is important. They can give guidance, and conversely, you can too, back to the teacher. They have too much HW, they have too little. They’re getting stressed, they’re ready for more.

3)    Don’t let homework disrupt the family dynamic. Nightly fights about homework are lose/lose. 

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